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Superintendent Message (Feb. 29, 2016)

New initiatives and teacher accolades

Feb. 29, 2016

Dear SAISD Staf

I’ve shared about the important role that collaboration plays in our efforts to ensure that many more SAISD students are performing at higher levels. That includes working with colleges and universities. Institutions and people with special knowledge and expertise must be key players in our efforts, if we hope to achieve our goals 5-Year Goals and have better outcomes for our students.

That’s why I was pleased last Thursday to join in the public announcement of the Community Lab School programs at Crockett and Douglass elementary schools, projects that draws on the expertise of faculty at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Plans for the lab schools were underway before I arrived, but I support them and the unprecedented resources and assistance they will provide for the two campuses.

The program, funded by a federal grant, takes a comprehensive approach to turning around those schools and represents collaboration among administrators, educators, families, teacher preparation programs, teachers and UTSA’s staff, faculty and researchers. You can read more about it here. We will continue to look to institutions of higher education to work with us on our transformative efforts.

I also mentioned to you in my last message that we are going to be adding the 6th grade to some of our campuses, giving parents the option of keeping their children in an elementary environment longer, a move that research indicates benefits students both socially and academically. We’ve determined that 11 of our elementary schools in the Connell, Twain and Wheatley middle school feeder patterns will add the 6th grade next year, ultimately serving up to the 7th or 8th grades.

We’re still working out the details, but changes also will be made to Connell, Twain and Wheatley over the next two years, converting underperforming middle schools to innovative academies  that focus on dual-language instruction, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), or another to-be-determined area. We believe these additional options will help us to retain more of our students, particularly those whose parents prefer fewer transitions to new schools or might have concerns about a traditional middle-school setting.

Also, coming soon is an announcement related to an initiative to better serve students who seek academic challenge with greater depth and complexity. That initiative includes a designated academy, and a significant focus will be to create a pipeline of highly qualified teachers to build up advanced programs at other SAISD schools.

Talent Management is one of the five pillars of our SAISD Blueprint for Excellence: Target 2020. But even as we work to grow our talent, it’s important to recognize those who already are excelling, among them Whittier Middle School algebra teacher Laura Servin. You may have read or seen on the news that she was the only Texas educator this year to receive the prestigious Milken Educator award, which has been dubbed the “Oscar” of teaching. Gov. Greg Abbot and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath were at the school to participate in the surprise announcement Feb. 18.

The honor puts Ms. Servin among the top educators in the nation. Within the District, one thing that makes her stand out and has us looking to her for best practices is that her students have the highest algebra passing rates of all middle school students in the District. Thank you, Ms. Servin, for your passion, dedication and hard work.

I also want to thank our three Distinguished Teachers of the Year, who were announced last Thursday. One outstanding teacher was selected from the levels of elementary, middle and high school. They are Veronica Goldbach from Franklin Elementary School, Karen Harris from Young Women’s Leadership Academy (for middle school) and Cassandra Vara from Travis Early College High School. These educators were nominated by their peers for their passion, commitment and innovation, among other factors. 

Our teachers are on the ground level every day and know our students best. They are in a position to impact our students’ lives. At the District level, we want to be sure we are doing all we can to support their work, and a lot of the transformation underway is strategically focused to do that by driving more support to the classroom, through both resources and professional development.

In speaking about support, I want to mention the great support we’re receiving from SAISD fathers and male role models. On Friday, some 200 fathers and father figures attended our Fathers in Action luncheon, which illustrates on-going and growing efforts tied to our pillar of Stakeholder Engagement. We want to engage with all segments of the community to get diverse feedback and ideas, as well as encourage their partnership in helping all SAISD students to realize their dreams.

The next opportunity to learn more about our Blueprint for Excellence and tell us what you think is tonight at 6 p.m. at Edison High School. You can see the full meeting schedule here.